Management: What's your problem?

You don't have to break the bank to avoid being seen as a Scrooge at Christmas, writes our columnist Valerie Morton

Valerie Morton, trainer, fundraiser and consultant
Valerie Morton, trainer, fundraiser and consultant

Q: Help! How do I celebrate the festive season at work without either coming across like Scrooge or breaking the bank?

A:I cannot imagine there is a single manager anywhere that has not been mulling this question over in the past few weeks. Oh to be in one of those high-bonus industries where you personally send each of your team a case of champagne and do your socialising at the grand company Christmas party.

Voluntary sector salaries do not allow us that luxury and, as guardians of donors’ money, any spend on ‘entertainment’ needs to be given careful consideration. We also have to be sensitive to the fact that not everyone celebrates Christmas.

So let’s split this up into the two parts – your role as a manager of a charity and then your personal role as a member of staff.

As a manager, the holiday season is a great opportunity to thank your staff for their hard work throughout the year. The excuse to have some time off together – whether a night out or simply cakes in the office – can also be a perfect way of cementing or rebuilding relationships. The challenge is to make sure that whatever you do does not end up backfiring by excluding some members of the team.

I have always felt that some kind of party is a must. I would feel very sad if I ever managed a team whose members did not look forward to an opportunity to have fun together. Although I think many donors would understand a charity subsidising a staff event by a small amount to recognise their hard work, I also feel that an even greater number would not be happy if they were told their hard-earned £15 donation was paying for the charity employees’ party.

On balance, my rule is, sadly in some respects, that staff must pay, but there are a number of ways to get over the potential of excluding some people because they cannot afford it. First, I have been to several Christmas events, held in-house, where staff have brought in some food. Done in the right way, it’s not seen as a burden, but something people are happy to do. 

Alternatively, at one charity I set up a ‘Friday Cakes’ session during the year for my team – people took turns to bring in cakes each Friday. We all stopped for half an hour and paid 50p for a slice, having useful chats and exchanges of ideas in the process. The money raised was used to subsidise, or pay for, the Christmas night out. Too late to start for this year, but just in time to put in to place for 2011.

If we turn to your role as a member of staff, this one’s easy. Simply send an email to everyone saying you are not sending cards, but making a donation to a charity (there are some very funny e-cards you could use) and give a token gift to each of your direct reportees. Leave the ‘secret Santa’ to someone else.

My personal choice was to take in trays full of home-made chocolate truffles on the last day. I would go round the whole office handing them out and wishing everyone season’s greetings. Email me if you want the recipe.

Valerie Morton is a trainer, fundraiser and consultant. Send your questions to


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